This is a fine compendium of a critically acclaimed (perhaps overly so) era and musical style, though it's slightly less cohesive and consistent than some of Rhino's other various artists' collections. Containing 100 songs and giving U.K. and U.S. acts almost equal space, the one glaring omission on this roughly chronological 4-cd set is the lack of any Sex Pistols songs (they couldn't get the rights, but you already have Never Mind The Bollocks, right?). It also uses the term "punk" too loosely, as quite a few of these songs are clearly not punk rock songs but are more aptly described as new wave, power pop, pub rock, or straight up rock 'n' roll.
Among the songs that don't really belong on this collection are The Stranglers' "(Get A) Grip (On Yourself" (new wave pop is more like it), The Runaways' "Cherry Bomb" (which is more metal than punk, though those genre distinctions are often blurry), Eddie & The Hot Rods' "Teenage Depression" and "Do Anything You Wanna Do" (though the former's theme of alienation is a common outsider punk lament, it's rockabilly music doesn't really fit musically, while the second song is just a good fun goofy pop rock song), Iggy Pop's "Lust For Life" (a great song by the "Godfather Of Punk," this one is more catchy pop than punk - it was recently featured in a commercial because it's a pop song, pure and simple), Blondie's "X Offender" (sexy "girl group" bubblegum pop), The Boomtown Rats' "Lookin' After No. 1" and "She's So Modern" (the former is straight rock 'n' roll, the latter isn't punk or even good for that matter), Wire's "Mannequin" (a mellow, melodic, poppy song of the type I wish they did more often, this nevertheless is among their least punk songs), Elvis Costello's "Mystery Dance" and "Radio Radio" (he may have been an "angry young man" and therefore tangentially related to the punk scene but musically speaking he wasn't punk rock, though the latter in particular is a good tune), The Cure's "Boys Don't Cry" (a genius pop song but not punk), Joe Jackson's "Is She Really Going Out With Him" (it may be pissed off and nasty lyrically but musically it's just a great pop song), Johnny Thunders' "You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory" (a good, affecting gutter ballad but again not punk), Ian Dury's "Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll" (funky new wave, not at all punk), Devo's "Mongoloid" (also new wave - perhaps Rhino could've broken this up into separate collections? - it might've painted a more accurate picture...), The Mekons' "Where Were You?" (an excellent, melodic song, there's just nothing much punk about it aside from its VU-inspired groove), and The Motors' "Dancing The Night Away" (again, this is just a really good rock song).
But enough bitching and moaning, most of those are really good songs, and this collection does deliver a bunch of no-doubt-about-it punk classics like The Ramones' "Blitzkreig Bop" and "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker" (two of their best and best-known songs), The Jam's "In The City" (just a great, catchy, hard driving, memorable rock 'n' roll song), Pere Ubu's "The Final Solution" (dark, dangerous, menacing, and truly exciting), The Modern Lovers' "Roadrunner" (a genius VU ripoff - albeit more cheery of course - this was later covered by Joan Jett and may very well be the best driving song ever), Iggy & The Stooges' aptly titled "Search and Destroy" (ferocious music with a charismatic vocal), Richard Hell & The Voidoids' "Blank Generation" (pure punk attitude) and "Love Comes In Spurts" (propulsive, catchy fun), New York Dolls' "Personality Crisis" and "Trash" (like The Stooges and several others, really proto-punk - where's The MC5? - but such a high energy blast that again who am I to complain?), The Buzzcocks' "What Do I Get?" and "Ever Fallen In Love" (driving, all-time great punk poppers), Patti Smith's "Free Money" (love the sparse attack and overall intensity), Television's "See No Evil' (great propulsive thrust and melodic guitars, though again only tangentially punk; they were from CBCG's where it all started), The Dead Boys' "Sonic Reducer" (a hilarious and hard rocking scuzzball classic), Siouxsie and The Banshees's "Honk Kong Garden" (supremely catchy yet angular jangle Goth pop; the guitars may have an "edge" but it's still a pop song), Blondie's "Hanging On The Telephone" (gorgeous blonde girls can kick ass too! this compilation proves that...), The Only Ones' "Another Girl Another Planet" (another great rock song even if it isn't really a punk rock song; I guess some of these songs should've been in the previous paragraph!), Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer" (a jittery, disturbing classic), Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (a moody pop classic), The Undertones' "Get Over You" (good driving melody, catchy pop chorus, propulsive groove) and especially "Teenage Kicks" (this great party/summer song was John Peel's favorite song for good reason).
Elsewhere, there are plenty of other really good songs by bands that aren't quite as well-known, though many knowledgeable music fans will be familiar with the following: The Saints' "I'm Stranded" (a good driving rocker), The Adverts' "One Chord Wonders" (great energy and very raw musically, even if the vocals aren't much - a weakness of the genre in general) and "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" (this raw, fun, lo-fi number is punk rock), The Heartbreakers' "Born To Lose" (catchy, energetic, and fun with a great shout along chorus) and "Chinese Rocks" (another classic later also done by The Ramones), The Dictators' "Two Tub Man" (loud, raw, funny, and obnoxious proto-punk, as per usual from these guys), The Damned's "New Rose" (one of the earliest songs attributed to the movement, and a good one it is), The Vibrators' "Baby Baby " (which starts with cool menacing riffs and then gets all poppy; it even has a guitar solo (they're out of the punk club!)), Generation X's "Your Generation" (a catchy Sex Pistols-inspired romp by Billy Idol's first band), Magazine's "Shot By Both Sides" (maybe Howard DeVoto leaving The Buzzcocks was for the best), X-Ray Spex's "The Day The World Turned Day-Glo" (the template for bands such as Sleater-Kinney, this is much better than the better known "Oh Bondage Up Yours!," which is also included), the Dead Kennedys "California Uber Allies" (cool drums, menacing guitars, and an admirable overall energy enables the band to overcome their annoying attention hog of a singer), The Rezillos' "Top Of The Pops" (catchy, shout along fun with a female singer, as women are ably represented by this compilation), and X's "We're Desperate" (featuring Exene Cervenka and John Doe's trademark traded off vocals).
Even more useful is that this compilation provides good songs from obscure bands, such as Penetration's "Don't Dictate" (another female singer, the drummer's good, and I dig the dirty verses and the catchy chorus), The Members' "The Sound Of The Suburbs" (like many punk songs, this propulsive bass-driven, Clash-like anthem is about being bored), 999's "Homocide" (angular guitars anchor this catchy epic), The Weirdos' "We Got The Neutron Bomb" (huge fuzzy riffs, simple but fun and genuinely exciting), and The Avengers' "We Are The One" (another female singer and some great raw riffs, this one can get a bit irritating but I like the overall energy and anger). Also, rarities come in the form of Patti Smith's version of "Hey Joe" (the intro is annoying but once she starts singing slowly I really like it), an early version of The Pretenders' "Wait" (good stuff), and Television's "Little Johnny Jewel," an epic guitar masterpiece (since added to the Marquee Moon reissue) that has its ups and downs but its ups are flat-out brilliant.
On the downside, some songs, such as the overrated "White Riot" (The Clash - why only one song from The Clash and two from the lesser likes of Eddie & The Hot Rods?), "Boredom" (The Buzzcocks), "Adult Books" (X), "(I Want To Be An) Anglepoise Lamp" (The Soft Boys - why not "I Wanna Destroy You"?), "Love Like Anthrax" (Gang Of Four), don't represent the bands at their best, and there are some supposedly seminal bands that I found lacking (if "She Is Beyond Good And Evil" is the best that The Pop Group has too offer I don't think I'll be investigating any further). Also, much like the (at least fairly) obscure bands who appear with good songs, there are a fair amount of obscure bands, particularly on the comparatively weak fourth disc, who deserve to be (I'll refrain from naming them).
So, overall what you get is a bit of a hodgepodge that doesn't quite sum up the genre as well as it could have but which nevertheless delivers a load of good and often-great songs, many of which most of you will probably never hear otherwise, at least not on the radio. Personally, though a fair amount of classic albums came from the late '70s punk scene (when it was in its prime), I've always though that, like other genres such as hip-hop and soul, punk was really a medium that was best represented by short sharp singles. Many of the best singles from that era appear here, along with a fair amount of lesser lights who had a moment or two, making for a fine if flawed collection.
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